© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Against the Wall
Nolan daydreamed his way through the Friday classes. Most of the conversations around him were about how bad the football team was and which party people were going to. Nolan didn’t go to many parties, so most people didn’t even ask if he planned to anymore. It wasn’t easy starting to party around nine when most of the rest of the group was wasted by seven or eight. Nolan had gone to a birthday party for Becky several weeks ago and only a few people even remembered he was there.
Steve Hargrove was waiting for Nolan outside the gym doors when the younger boy got out of his math class. "My mom said she talked to your mom."
"Yeah. Mine told me last night," Nolan replied, taking a stick of gum out and unwrapping it.
"So?" Hargrove asked. "You gonna come?"
Nolan thought Hargrove sounded anxious. He gave the senior a funny look as he popped the chewing gum into his mouth.
"It’s just…well…you know how moms are?" Hargrove said. "Now she wants to meet you. I don’t know what our moms talked about, but she seems to like your mom…."
"Look," Nolan said. "I’m kinda tired. So, even though my mom said it was okay, I might just go home and hit the sack."
"You’re not still mad at me because of the beer, are you?"
"No. Not really…."
"’Cause, if you are, I really apologize. I just didn’t think it would be a big deal. Okay?"
"Okay," Nolan said.
"See you later?" Hargrove asked.
"Maybe," Nolan replied.
That Friday evening, after Kevin Nolan turned in the money from his last run for the diner, he returned to his car, yawning. He stretched and yawned again. By the time he finally got into the blue Beetle, he had already decided to head for home. But as he approached the red light at Sixth and Hawthorne, he kept hearing Steve Hargrove’s voice, If people know I like it…they’ll leave it alone. …leave it alone. …leave it alone.
Nolan slammed his hands against the steering wheel while waiting for the light to change.
But if you’re not going to be my friend….
When the light changed, he pulled across the intersection and stopped the car along the curb. "I’m too tired to go." No one was there to disagree.
Stay away from him. He’s the meanest person I ever met. There’s nothing he won’t do to get back at somebody who’s crossed him.
What should I do, Nolan wondered? He took out his pack of gum, pulled out the last stick, and unwrapped it. He stuck the gum in his mouth and shook his head, shrugged, and pulled away from the curb.
Two blocks down Hawthorne, Nolan turned right. The street in front of Hargrove’s two-story home was packed with cars. Nolan had to go halfway down the block on the opposite side of the street to find a place to leave his vehicle. If people know I like your car….
When he got out of his car, Nolan could hear the music from the party. He made his way back to Hargrove’s garage, stopping just beyond the circle of light by the open doorway. He could see Hargrove and Springer. And Kramer. Most of the football team was there. Several cheerleaders. A lot of people he recognized but did not know.
He looked up. Hargrove was standing in the doorway.
"What’re you doin’ out there?"
Hargrove came over and put his arm around the younger boy’s shoulder and started to usher him into the garage.
Nolan turned and spit the gum into a flowerbed next to the garage door.
"Hey, guys," Hargrove said as the pair stepped inside. "Look who came. This is Kevin Nolan—the kid that drives that cool, blue Beetle."
Most people smiled and nodded. Kramer came over and said, "Glad you could come. Hey, Springer," he said, half-turning away, "you owe me ten bucks!"
"What do you want to drink?" Hargrove asked him. "We got beer, coke, even some stuff Kramer took from his old man."
"Coke, I guess," Nolan replied.
"Great. Come with me. I gotta get more from the house," Hargrove said. "’Sides, my mom wanted to meet ya’."
Kevin followed the older boy reluctantly.
"This is a great party. I’m real glad you decided to come." Hargrove said as the two climbed the steps to the back porch. "Hey, Mom," Hargrove yelled, opening the door. "I got Kevin with me."
"You don’t have to yell, Steven," his mother said, turning from the stove. "I’m right here.
"Kevin, this is my mom, Irene Phillips. Mom, this is Kevin Nolan."
"It’s nice to meet you," Mrs. Phillips said, wiping her hands on a towel and coming over. She reached out a hand.
Nolan smiled and shook it.
"Your mother said it was all right for you to stay over tonight. Did you need to call her."
"Oh, yeah. I did," Kevin said. "I was supposed to call her before I left work."
"Don’t worry about it, Kevin," she said. "Use the phone in the dining room. It’s just inside the door there."
As Nolan went to call his mother, he heard Mrs. Phillips tell Hargrove, "I’m glad you came in when you did. I have those hot, fried peppers you wanted. You can take them back out there when you go. Then your friends won’t think I’m spying."
When Nolan returned, Hargrove was taking a big pan out of the oven.
"Could you grab those two six-packs of coke?" Hargrove asked, nodding toward the counter.
"No problem." Nolan grabbed the cans and headed to the back door, holding it open for the larger teen.
"You ever had any of these?" Hargrove asked.
"What are they?"
"They’re fried peppers. They got some cheese in ‘em. But they’re still pretty hot. I love ‘em."
"No, but I like to try new stuff," Nolan said, following Hargrove down the steps and into the garage.
"You can put the cokes in the tub of ice over there," Hargrove said, nodding with his head to the corner of the garage. "Okay, the hot peppers are here. And Kevin’s putting some more coke on ice for you teetotalers."
Nolan kept one can aside for himself, burying the other eleven cans down under the half-melted ice. The slushy water was so cold his hands stung. They were red and numb by the time he got the last can buried.
"This’ll warm you up," Hargrove said, coming up behind him, handing him a couple of hot peppers.
The coating was warm and broke apart when Nolan bit into one of the peppers. The melted cheese squirted into then started back out of his mouth, started to dribble down his chin. He had to inhale quickly to keep the goo in his mouth. The second bite was almost all pepper. He could feel the heat immediately. His eyes watered.
"Better take a swig of that coke," Hargrove said. "You get used to the heat after a while. I thought I’d never be able to feel my tongue again the first time I had these."
Nolan popped open his coke and the cold liquid soothed the burning, but just for a moment. He swallowed some more.
"Try some more of the pepper," Hargrove urged, handing the younger boy two more. "It’s better to deaden you mouth than it is to try and cool it off."
"He’s right," Springer said, coming up beside them. "Let me take that," the skinny upper-classman said, grabbing Nolan’s coke. "You eat both of those peppers before you drink any more coke," he said, hiding the can behind his back, "and you’ll feel a whole lot better."
Nolan looked at the older boy’s skeptically.
"Don’t give him back that coke until he’s finished these peppers," Hargrove said.
Nolan bit down to the stem on the first pepper. Again, the heat flushed through his mouth, but he didn’t think it was as intense this time. His eyes still watered. He could hardly see.
"One down. Two to go," Hargrove encouraged.
Nolan bit a smaller piece off the second pepper and sucked the cheese out. He could hardly taste it. He could hardly feel it. He swallowed. Then he stuffed all of the second pepper into his mouth, pulling back just the stem. Definitely not as hot, he told himself.
Hargrove pointed at the third pepper.
Nolan bit into it the same way he had the last one. After sucking out the cheese, he ate the rest of the pepper in one big bite.
"Are you sure you never had these before?" Hargrove asked. "You’re eating ‘em like a pro."
"I’ll say," Springer said.
"Well, give this man his coke back," Hargrove announced. "He’s earned it."
Nolan could hardly see, and with so many of the older boys slapping him on the back, it was several minutes before he got his hands on his coke. When he finally got to drink some, he could barely feel the cool liquid in his mouth. He couldn’t taste it at all.
"We got a lot more peppers," Kramer announced, bringing the pan back to Hargrove.
The older boy took two and bit both peppers down to the stems. Springer did the same. Kramer popped another one in his mouth, as did several of the other football players now encircling Nolan.
The sophomore took another pepper in each hand, absently wondering what had happened to his coke. He followed Hargrove’s lead, and put both peppers into his mouth, pulling back empty stems.
Around a quarter to eleven, Hargrove’s mother poked her head in the garage to announce it was time to turn the CD player down and for the eleven o’clockers to go home. "I’ll be back in about an hour," she announced. "And anybody who’s not staying for the night will have to leave."
"Your momp’s preddy c…cool," Nolan said to Hargrove. "Thoss p…pe…pers are maggin’ it hard to talk." Nolan looked at the older boy. He was still having trouble seeing.
"Yeah, that can happen," Hargrove said. "But you’ll be all right. You want some more coke?"
When Mrs. Phillips returned around eleven forty-five, Nolan was nearly asleep on a beanbag chair in the corner behind the door.
"Is he okay, Honey?" Mrs. Phillips asked, looking down at the youngster.
Nolan smiled a weak smile back.
"He’s okay. Just tired. He’s not used to these kinds of late nights, Mom. He’s just a kid."
"You be sure he gets some sleep," she told Hargrove. "Remember, he’s got a doctor’s appointment in the morning."
"I remember," Hargrove replied.
Nolan remembered seeing Mrs. Phillips leave. The last of the cheerleaders go. About a dozen guys were still in the garage. Most of them were down at the other end of the room when he closed his eyes to sleep.
Kevin Nolan felt someone shaking his shoulder. The young teen's back ached, and the shaking only increased the pain. His head throbbed; his stomach was queasy. He turned toward the voice, stared into a bright flashlight, and had to look away.
"Come out of the car, Son."
What am I doing in a car? The last thing Nolan could remember was seeing Mrs. Phillips leave the garage. Most of the remaining partygoers left when she came out before midnight. He remembered hearing Steve Hargrove and Derrick Springer, on the opposite side of the garage, laugh about something as he settled into the old bean bag chair to sleep.
When Nolan tried to sit up, his head pounded right behind his eyes. He grabbed his temples and moaned.
He turned back toward the voice, his eyes still closed.
"I need you to step out of the car."
When Nolan sat upright, he felt the familiar upholstery of his Uncle Jerry’s blue Beetle. How did I get in here? Then he held his head, trying to ease the pounding.
"Where am I?" His voice was thick; his speech slow.
"Crest View Mall," the gravelly voice said. "Please step out of the car?"
Nolan struggled to lift one foot out of the car. It was like lead. Then the other. He had to pull himself out of the bucket seat, using the doorframe for support.
The state trooper shone the light back in the teen’s face.
Nolan closed his eyes and looked away.
"How do you feel?"
"Head hurts," Nolan replied.
"Not a surprise," the trooper replied. "Do you have your license?"
Nolan fumbled his wallet out of his back pocket. It thumped on the soft, sandy ground near the front wheel of the car. When the teen bent over to retrieve it, he nearly blacked out. He slumped against the car, holding his head. "Man," he said, rubbing his temples. When he opened his eyes, the wallet swirled slowly in front of him. He blinked, shook his head, tried to clear his vision.
"How much have you had to drink tonight?" the trooper asked.
"I don’t drink," Nolan said. "I wouldn’t…." his voice trailed off.
"Let me help you up," the uniformed officer said, offering his hand.
Nolan took it, noticed how sweaty his own hand was.
"You take something?"
"I…I don't understand" Nolan said, trying to look around.
"Pills?" the trooper asked. "You take some pills?"
"What? No. I don’t take drugs," Nolan replied. The boy shook his head. How did I get way out here, he wondered.
"Would you do something for me, Son?" the trooper asked. "Would you close your eyes for a minute and stretch your arms straight out to the sides?"
"Now, would you bring your right hand in and touch it to the tip of your nose?"
Nolan’s arms both started to move as he tried to decide which was his right arm.
"Just the right one, Son."
Nolan brought both arms back straight out to the sides and tried again. The right arm, he told himself. The right one. And, slowly, the right arm started to move.
"Good. Now just touch your index finger to the tip of your nose."
Nolan thought it was going to be easy. At first. But the closer he got to his face, the less sure he knew where the tip of his nose was. His motion slowed. Slowed. Stopped.
"Keep your eyes closed, Son."
Nolan realized he had been sneaking a peek and could see the blur of his hand just off to the right of his face. When the officer’s dark green uniform moved into his field of vision, Nolan shut his eyes. He started moving his arm again. He hit the end of his nose with the base of his thumb. His eyes opened in surprise. I can do this, he said to himself, as he stretched his arm out to the side again. After closing his eyes, he tried again. This time his forefinger hit the corner of his mouth.
"That’s enough, Son," the trooper said.
"But I know I can do it."
"When you’re sober."
"Let me get a look inside the car, okay Pete?" a voice said from near the front of the car.
"Sure, Lieutenant," the trooper replied. "Follow me over to my patrol car, Son."
What’s going on, Nolan wondered. He felt heat spread across his face. The beads of sweat on his brow and upper lip turned instantly cold. He shivered. As he moved about fifteen feet behind the blue Beetle, Nolan took in the scene. The trooper’s car, with its rack of lights flashing, was parked in front of a second car, with a single red light spinning on top.
Both cars were parked behind the Beetle. The blue Beetle was nosed against a cinderblock wall; it glowed a ghostly yellow in the security lights around the mall. The domino designs of the mall loomed to the right.
The trooper opened the back door of his vehicle. He motioned for Nolan to climb inside. "I’ll be back," he said, slamming the door.
Nolan looked around. There was wire mesh separating the front seat from the back. He tried to peer through the mesh and the windshield to see what the two men were doing, but the trooper’s car was parked behind and to the right of his Beetle, blocking his line of vision. "What’s going on," he asked again. But there was no one to answer him. He started to reach for the door handle to get out. But there was none.
The teenager tried to swallow but couldn’t. When he reached for his gum, he pulled out the empty pack. "Man!" He crushed it and threw it against the wire mesh.
Then he shivered, even though the squad car’s engine continued to run and the heater was on.
"How did I ever get way out here?"
Nolan buried his head in his hands. It still hurt. He wanted his mom. He was about to cry.
The teen heard footsteps and looked up just in time to see a man in a gray suit coat come toward the car. As he opened the rear door of the vehicle, he spoke to someone Nolan couldn't see. "Call for a wrecker and a couple of ambulances."
The lieutenant ducked his head into the seat. "Would you step out of the car, Son?" the he asked.
The boy nodded, struggling to get out of the car.
"Come with me, please," the lieutenant directed, taking the teen roughly by the arm and leading him around to the Beetle.
Nolan shivered in the eerie glow of the cinderblock wall. I sure don't remember hitting anything, the boy thought, approaching the front of the car and seeing the flattened bumper hugging the wall. It was a moment or two before Nolan looked beyond the bumper. What's Uncle Jerry going to do when he sees this, he wondered. But then his eyes moved down to the ground where a hand stretched out from under the car near the front tire. He could even see part of the sleeve of a red sweatshirt.
"Oh no. Oh no. Oh no," Nolan cried, frozen in place. Part of him wanted to turn and run. Part of him wanted to edge closer for a better look. "How could this happen?" the boy asked, turning to look at the lieutenant.
The gray-haired man's mouth tightened into a hard line as he pulled off his glasses and idly cleaned them on a handkerchief.
Nolan finally staggered forward, bracing himself against the wall. His eyes grew wide as he rubbed his forehead. I didn't do this? How could I? Oh Man, what's Uncle Jerry going to say? This doesn't make any sense. When Nolan turned away, he put his hand to his mouth, swallowing hard to keep from throwing up. Tears streamed down his face.
"I don’t know how this happened," Nolan said, trying to regain his composure. He stared at the lieutenant. "I don’t know how I even got out here."
The lieutenant took a step toward Nolan as the teen slumped back against the wall. The boy did a slow slide down to the ground. He sat, hugging his knees to his chest.
In the distance, sirens could be heard.
Nolan did not look up.
"Come on, Son," the lieutenant said, pulling the youth to his feet and leading him back between the other two vehicles. "We need to get out of their way," he said with a nod toward the commotion of men beginning to hover around the front of the Beetle. The lieutenant leaned against the front of his car, pushed Nolan toward the back end of the squad car. Then he pulled out a pack of unfiltered cigarettes. "Want one?" he offered.
Nolan shook his head.
"Terrible habit. Know I should quit," he said, pulling a cigarette out of the half-empty pack. He put it into his mouth, and lit it. "But it does seem to calm me down."
Nolan didn’t know what to say.
"I’m going to send you to Coppell Memorial just to get you checked out," the lieutenant said.
The boy nodded.
"We'll call your parents and have them meet us at the hospital," the lieutenant continued.
"Do you have to call my mom?" Nolan asked, knowing the answer.
"Your mom can take you home," the lieutenant said, ignoring the commotion. "We have to check your vehicle out before we can give it back to you."
"It's my Uncle's car," Nolan said. "He's going to kill me when he sees it. Man," Nolan sighed. "Why is this happening to me?"
The lieutenant said nothing.
Nolan started to cry again.
"I can’t believe this," the teenager said, waving his hand at the scene behind him.
"I don’t know what to tell you."
Nolan turned at the flash of a camera, but he could not see much of what was going on around his car. There was another flash. And still another. He could hear the men's muffled voices, but he couldn’t understand what they said.
When the trooper waved his hat in the air, the lieutenant asked Nolan to come with him, took his arm, and led him back toward the front of the Beetle. The vehicle had been moved away from the wall, and the body now rested under a sheet on a gurney. The teen’s eyes slowly looked from toe toward the head as he and the lieutenant moved closer. One of the men pulled the sheet back as the pair stopped a few feet from the body. Nolan looked away from the head, focusing on the peeling Parkview High School emblem on the sweatshirt’s front. He closed his eyes, afraid to look at the face.
"Do you recognize him?"
Nolan caught a deep breath. With his eyes still closed, he turned toward the head of the gurney. He took the quickest peek he could. It was long enough to recognize Coach McAfee. He closed his eyes and looked away.
"Do you know who he is?"
The teen nodded.
The lieutenant waited.
"Coach McAfee," Nolan whispered. "It’s Coach McAfee."
Then he threw up, barely having time to turn away from the lieutenant, to bend over. He fell to his knees. "I can't believe this is happening," he cried.
The lieutenant helped him to his feet and handed him over to one of the ambulance attendants.
"Get him to lie down," the lieutenant said. "And after he’s strapped in, I need to talk to you."
Nolan read the attendant’s name on his tag. Landers.
The dark-haired attendant wasn't much older than Nolan's cousin, Bob Trout, was. Nolan needed a boost into the back of the large, white vehicle. Once he was inside, the attendant motioned him to the gurney. "You need to lie down. I’ll need to strap you in for the ride back to the hospital."
A moment later, Nolan was secured to the bed and the attendant stepped back out of the vehicle. The teen could hear the lieutenant’s voice, but he couldn’t make out what was said.
The slam of the door brought Nolan’s eyes open.
"Sorry," Landers said. "Since somebody rear-ended us, the door doesn’t close right unless we slam it. Try and close your eyes again. It usually makes the ride easier when you’re lying down."
Nolan did. He heard the attendant get squared in his seat and knock on the back wall of the compartment. A moment later, the wheels began to turn, then the hum of the road could be heard. And something else. But Nolan couldn’t place the sound. And he didn’t feel like looking around to see if he could find it.
He felt the door open, surprised that the vehicle was stopped. Landers pulled the gurney out of the ambulance. His partner grabbed onto the bar next to Nolan’s head. It was too hard to look up and back to read the man’s name. Nolan closed his eyes again.
The smell of the hospital assailed Nolan’s nose as the gurney crossed the threshold. The overhead lights were bright, even with his eyes closed.
"Oh, Kevin," he heard his mother cry. "Is he all right? "Will he be all right?"
"Mrs. Nolan, please," a female voice said. "We’ll know a lot more once we check him over." More kindly, "You can see him when we’re finished."
Then too many voices shouting too many things. Nolan quit listening.
Nolan missed his doctor's appointment Saturday morning. In the afternoon, he and his mother went down to the police station to see Lt. Bagwell, the Coppell police officer at the scene of the accident the night before. The news was came on after his mother started the van.
Long time Parkview High School football coach, Edward McAfee, is dead. He is the apparent victim of a DWI. His body was found under a car that crashed into a retaining wall at the construction site of the Crest View Mall in Lewisville. Police report that the teenager driving the car was apparently under the influence of alcohol. Since the driver is a minor, his name is not being released at this time. A Police Department spokesman said the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Mrs. Carole Nolan eyed her son in the rearview mirror as she switched off the radio. "We don't need to listen to that," she said. The rest of the ride to the station was made in silence.
Kevin Nolan stared out the passenger’s side window, seeing little. He was afraid to look at his mother. He did not know what to say to her. I let her down, he kept thinking over and over. How could I be so stupid? His stomach churned and soured as he remembered her face when she wheeled her chair into his room at the hospital last night. Never had her eyes been so dark. Her face sagged from her cheekbones. Her lips were nearly blue.
She did not even look at him when she spoke. "They tell me you're all right. You'll probably have a headache in the morning. Lt. Bagwell says he will see us in his office tomorrow afternoon. He wants you to get some rest." She said nothing he hadn't heard before.
I didn't mean to drink, he wanted to tell her. I didn't. But how could he make her believe that? And how could he explain the car? He couldn't. Not to her. Not even to himself. What was the point of even trying?
The sound of the hydraulic lift startled the teenager. The van was parked in the handicapped spot near the side door of the police station.
"Let's go, Kevin," Mrs. Nolan said, wheeling off the lift.
He was slow to climb out of the van and come around to the other side of the vehicle where his mother waited.
Nolan stepped around the chair and pressed the button to close the van’s door. Still facing the van, he said, "I don’t know what I can tell him. I don’t remember driving out there. I really don’t."
A few minutes later, the Nolan’s were shown into the lieutenant’s office. There was a partially eaten sandwich and a half-cup of coffee on the desk.
"Excuse the mess, folks," Bagwell said, as the two came into his office. "I had to eat on the run today. A lot going on."
Nolan pushed his mother’s chair up to the desk.
"You can close the door," the lieutenant said. "No sense letting every one hear what I have to say."
Nolan gave the older man, still wearing the same crumpled gray suit coat as he had the night before, an odd look before closing the door.
The lieutenant motioned the teen into a seat next to his mother before continuing. "Let me say some things up front, Mrs. Nolan. Kevin. Then I’ll give you a chance to ask questions. When you're finished, I’ll ask a few. Agreed?"
The Nolans nodded.
"First, we're not sure we know what happened last night."
Mrs. Nolan's knuckles whitened on the arms of her chair.
The lieutenant waved a hand to stop anything the teenager had to say. "Let me explain a few things we do know before you ask anything. Okay?" He didn’t wait for an answer. "First, the coroner is still studying the body. There are some bruises that are inconsistent with the accident. Second, we can't figure out where Kevin got that bump on his head."
Nolan touched his forehead where a large, purple bruise still throbbed.
"There are a few things that don't add up. And I'm going to need your help, Kevin, to try and put the pieces together." Bagwell looked from the boy to his mother. "The official department statement will continue to be that the accident is being investigated."
"But what does all that mean for me?" Nolan asked.
"For now," the lieutenant replied, "it doesn't mean much."
Nolan's chest fell.
"Until we have a better idea of what happened, Kevin, I'm afraid a lot of people are going to wonder what you did and why you did it."
Tears welled up in Nolan's eyes as he looked away.
The sound of footsteps could be heard in the hall in the silence that followed. Finally, Nolan asked. "Are you going to take my license?"
"No," the lieutenant replied. "Unless we determine that it wasn't an accident…that you planned to do it…." His voice trailed off. "No. You won't lose your license."
After another short pause, Bagwell turned to Mrs, Nolan. "Is there anything I can tell you?"
She shook her head.
"All right, then," the lieutenant said. "I'm going to get you a cup of coffee and have you wait down the hall while I talk to your son."
The middle-aged woman stared at the police officer.
"I need to talk to him alone," Bagwell said in answer to the unspoken question. "It will be easier for him if you're not here."
As the lieutenant rose from his seat, Nolan said, "I can take her."
"No. That's all right," Bagwell replied. He stepped around the desk and pulled Mrs. Nolan's chair back through the door.
Nolan could hear the lieutenant's voice as the policeman pushed his mother down the hallway.
A few minutes later, Bagwell returned. "I hope you like coke," he said, handing Kevin a cold can. There's not much of a choice on Saturday afternoon."
"Thanks," Nolan replied, taking the can and popping the top. The teenager looked around his side of the room, along the edge of the desk.
"What's the matter?" Bagwell asked.
"Gum," Nolan replied.
Bagwell smiled. He picked up his plastic wastebasket and held it out toward the teen. "I see I'm not the only one with a bad habit."
Nolan tossed the gum into the basket, his face flushing. He took a sip of the coke, trying to hide his embarrassment.
After returning the basket to its place, the lieutenant sat down and turned serious. "Let's go over what you told me last night," Bagwell said, pulling out a small notebook. "If I didn't get something right, you tell me. Okay?"
Nolan dipped his head in reply.
Bagwell started reading. "You say you left work a little after eight and drove to Steve Hargrove's house on Tenth Street. You got there about eight fifteen…." Bagwell droned on. Kevin only half listened, trying to remember. Steve Hargrove, Kramer, Springer, several other football players encircled him. Everyone was grabbing peppers. Hargrove was shoving them at him. He remembered taking two from the upper classman. After he ate the peppers, Springer handed him back his coke. He couldn't taste it. He could barely feel it is in numbed mouth. He didn't remember how many peppers he ate after that. Or how much coke he drank. He remembered having to look for his coke all the time. He would set it down one place only to find it somewhere else. He remembered half-listening to Hargrove talk about what Parkview should have done against Central. Some of his former teammates got mad. Somebody threw a punch. Kramer pulled him out of the way, Nolan remembered. Hargrove pelted his attacker with three quick jabs before Springer pulled him back. And then Nolan couldn't remember much more. Mrs. Phillips came in to tell everyone when to go home. The last time she came in, he was already starting to crash on the bean bag chair by the door.
"Can you remember any of the other people who were at the party?"
"What?" Nolan asked, only half-hearing the lieutenant's question.
"The names of the other people who were there?" the lieutenant sighed.
Nolan repeated the names of all the people he knew.
"There were some other people there. But I don't know what their names are," Nolan said. "I just guessed they were friends of Hargrove's--maybe guys that live in his neighborhood." Nolan tried to picture all the different people. Whether they sat or stood or played pool. When they left. "I just can't remember any other names," he said with a shake of his head.
"How well did you know Mr. McAfee?" Bagwell asked, taking a sip of his coke, turning a page of his notebook.
"Coach McAfee?" the teenager asked.
The lieutenant nodded.
"He was my history teacher."
"What do you want me to tell you?" Nolan asked.
"Did you like him?
"He was okay," the boy replied.
Nolan did not answer right away. "He's kind of boring, really," he said, staring down into his lap.
"No. But you have to read the book. He's not going to discuss anything in class except football."
"That make you mad?"
"No," Nolan replied. "Not really. I don't mind reading the stuff. Most classes have some reading."
Bagwell persisted in asking more and more questions about the coach.
"I didn't hate him!" Nolan yelled in frustration. "How many times do I have to tell you that. He was just my history teacher. I didn't like him. I didn't hate him. Most of the time I didn't even think about him. When I did think about him, I thought he was boring. Okay?"
Bagwell jotted a few more notes before looking over at the teenager. "I think I have enough for now," the officer told him. "I'll probably want to talk to you again."
"I don't know what else I can tell you," Nolan said.
"Sometimes, what happened becomes clearer a few days after all the excitement has died down," Bagwell replied. "After I talk to some of your friends and to some of the people who went to this party, I may learn something that I need to talk to you about. It's all pretty routine."
The teenager did not reply.
The lieutenant walked the boy out into the waiting area where his mother was reading a magazine. He thanked her for coming down with her son and said he might need to talk to her again in a few days, too. Then he left the Nolans at the station door.
"What do you think he wants to talk to me about?" Mrs. Nolan mused as her son wheeled her chair through the door.
"How should I know," the teenager spat.
But the boy did not respond. He pulled the lever for the hydraulic lift on the van, helped his mother into position, and threw the lever in reverse before walking around and climbing in on the passenger's side. He strapped on the seat belt, put his head back against the back of the seat and closed his eyes.